Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Musings - Gender and Reading - Gendered Reading

By Copyright by Fritz W. Guerin, St. Louis. [Public domain]
Gender seems to be perpetually in the air in the world of librarianship and children's literature.  I have been in this field for a while now and have worked in some different settings, but my setting of well over 10 years now has been in a school.

Over the past month or so I have been paying more attention than usual to our collection, gender and circulation.  I first started off simply with a post-it and two columns.  Each time a student would check out a book, I would mark off the column with the gender identification.  Every day the results would be similar.  The boys and girls in my school check out a similar amount of books.

I then decided to utilize the catalog software. (Anyone who knows me knows that I *love* running statistics!) I started off looking at the top ten patrons (those with the highest number of check outs) for the month, then I ran it back to the last 9 months of the school year.  The results?  Out of the top 10 patrons, 7 of them are boys.  Open the stats up to the top 50 patrons and the gender mix gets closer - 26 girls and 24 boys make up our top 50.

I have many thoughts about the why of this.  We have 4 librarians shepherding our students through their years at school.  Our early childhood librarian is a man, so one of the students first looks at what a reader looks like is Jesse.  We are very mindful about the books we share with our students, and we try incredibly hard to make sure there is a variety with characters who are diverse in all sorts of ways.  When we find stereotypes, we talk about them with the students.  We don't go in for the "Girl's Read" "Guys Read" variety of booklists or book talks.  In fact, two of my favorite anecdotes about assumptions helped make me more aware of my own gender bias after being steeped in this girls vs boys culture my whole life.  We have a boy who is a super reader, and he mostly (to my knowledge) was a reader of graphic novels.  He pretty much read everything we had for his age group by the time he was done with 4th grade.  At the end of the year, I ask the students to reflect and I ask them their favorite title.  His favorite title of all time?  The Penderwicks by Birdsall.  We also had a group of middle school boys who quietly came into the library and methodically checked out every single Clique book.  They didn't hide them, read them out in the open, and felt no shame along the way.

It's really up to the adults in the room to set the tone and fight against the pink and blue tide.  Create a reading culture, make sure you are not perpetuating the stereotype by handing boys sports books and girls friendship books.  Highlight books that get outside of the gender box.  Remember, there are no such thing as boy books and girl books, no matter what some marketing departments might say.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

The Secret Hum of a Daisy, by Tracy Holczer

Grace is used to traveling from place to place with her wandering mom, so when she passes and Grace has to stop, she is worried.  She knows that if she could just stay with Mrs. Greene and Lacey she will be alright.  But that is not the plan.  The plan is that she has to stay with her grandmother.

The problem is, she never met her grandmother before.  In fact, all she knows about her is that she kicked her mom out of the house when she was a teenager and pregnant with Grace.  Grace feels that if her grandmother didn't want her then, how can she possibly want her now?

Once she lands in her mother's hometown, she starts to see signs and find clues that her mother is still with her.  It's just like when she was younger and they would move to a different place -- her mother would send her on a scavenger hunt through the town.  This time, it all starts with an origami crane, stuck in the bushes on Grace's first day of school after the funeral.  "Mama thought birds were signposts sent to let us know we were headed in the right direction.  We'd look for birds on road signs, in murals or billboards, anywhere they might show up.  So I took that bird as a sign of encouragement." (pg. 57)

But is Grace on the right path?  Is trying to make her grandmother angry so she will send her back to Mrs. Greene the right thing to do?  Or should she stay in her mama's town and learn more about her mama, her late father and grandfather and her grandmother as well?  Should Grace give her a chance?

This is less a story of loss than it is a story of finding oneself.  Grace is quiet and thoughtful and is torn apart with her idea of Before mama died and After mama died.  The passing of her mother is fresh (days old at the start) and the reader joins Grace on this journey of trying to do more than simply exist in the After.  The Secret Hum of a Daisy possesses a simplicity that I find refreshing.  There is a poetry to the prose that is as far from flowery as you can get, but manages to land just right.  Several times I had to pause, close the book and just sit in wonder for a moment.  This is one that will simmer with you for a very long time after you read the final words.